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Partners in the Gospel

An Examination of What the Bible Teaches about
the Roles of Men and Women in the Church

F. Wayne Mac Leod

Light To My Path Book Distribution
Sydney Mines, NS, CANADA B1V 1Y5

Partners in the Gospel

Copyright © 2018 by F. Wayne Mac Leod

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Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™

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Table of Contents


Creation and the Fall

Worship in the Old Testament

Jesus and Women

The Early Church

The Teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 11

The Teaching of Paul in 1 Corinthians 14

The Teaching of Paul in 1 Timothy 2

Principles for Application

Light To My Path Book Distribution


The role of women in the ministry of the church has been a hotly debated topic for many years. Many books have been written on the subject. The arguments for the role of women in the ministry of the church have been both Biblical and social in nature.

There are those who read the Biblical texts about women in ministry and interpret them literally for all cultures and times. Other people see the passages to apply to the culture of the time where women were not as educated and free as they are in our day. Then there are those who go as far as to say that the teaching of the Bible on this subject is outdated and no longer relevant to our present-day church. Let me tell you at the very outset of this study where I stand on this matter.

First, I believe that the Bible speaks authoritatively to all cultures and times. The Bible will not become outdated with time. What Jesus taught is applicable to us in our day as much as it was for the apostles who wrote it. God reveals His purpose for the church in His Word. He has given us His Word to be a guide in doctrine and practice until He returns. The principles taught in Scripture, apply to all cultures. How those principles are lived out may differ from culture to culture but all cultures in all times are expected to walk in the truth taught in the Word of God. It is our authority in all matters of doctrine and Christian life. If we are to understand the role of women in the ministry of the church, we must look to the teaching of Scripture as our standard and authority in what God requires.

Secondly, God expects us to obey His Word whether we like what it teaches or not. We cannot pick and choose what we want to obey. Let me be honest here. If you were to ask me what I felt about the place of women in ministry I could give you two answers.

On the one hand I could tell you my opinion, based on my personal experience and understanding. I could tell you about women who preach and teach as well as any man I have met. I could speak of the incredible impact of godly women on my life and faith. I could point you to examples of businesses and countries that have been led by capable and gifted women. I could tell you that men and women stand before God as equals. I could remind you of the wonderful gifts God has given to women that need to be used in the body of Christ.

On the other hand, I could take you directly to the Scripture. We could sit down and discuss the teaching of Paul and the example of Jesus. As we do so, I might find myself in a dilemma. Does what Paul teaches fit my personal opinion? Do I agree with him about the role of women in ministry? To be honest, there are times when I find that my opinion clashes with what the Scriptures teach. What am I to do when I don’t like what I see in Scripture? After careful examination of the teaching of Scripture my obligation, as a follower of the Lord Jesus, is to surrender to it and accept God’s way above my own.

Thirdly, we must realise that if we are to properly understand and apply the Scriptures we must take into consideration the culture of the day in which they were written. There are commands and teachings in Scripture that only apply to us in principle. We read, for example, in Leviticus 19:27 that the law of God forbade the trimming of the beard and the sides of one’s hair. Is it wrong for a man to trim his beard? To go to this extreme is to misinterpret the Scriptures. These laws were written in the context of the pagan religious practices of Old Testament times. They were intended to keep God’s people from imitating the practices of these pagan cultures and falling away from God. The practice of trimming one’s beard would not be a stumbling block today as it was in the days of Moses. Nor would this practice be required of us as New Testament believers in our day.

In our examination of the teaching of Scripture on the issue of the role of women in the ministry of the church, we need to apply all three of the above- mentioned principles. We need to take God’s word at face value. It is not outdated. We need to commit ourselves to obeying what we discover in God’s word, whether we like it or not. Finally, we need to be careful not to misinterpret Scripture by ignoring the cultural context in which it was written. With these principles as our guideline let us examine the teaching of Scripture on this difficult subject.

F. Wayne Mac Leod


The world view of the apostles and New Testament believers was rooted in Judaism and it’s understanding of God and creation. This is the cultural perspective from which we must begin. Genesis 1-3 recounts the story of the creation of man and woman and gives us some key details about God’s purpose for them.

In Genesis 1 we read:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1)

This passage has several details we need to emphasize.

First, notice that God created “man” in his own image. The word “man” used in this verse is the Hebrew word “adam” which refers not just to a male but to human beings regardless of sex. This becomes clear in verse 27 when we read:

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1)

Simply put, God created both a male and a female human being.

What is important for us to note is that the male and female were created in the image of God. This distinguished them from the animals. They were equal participants in this image. While they were biologically different, the man and the woman both reflected God’s image. Having been created in the image of God, they were both to be treated with the respect and dignity that this implied. To treat either a man or a woman with a lack of dignity and respect was to insult the God who stamped His image on their lives.

Notice secondly from Genesis 1:26-28 that God gave both the man and the woman dominion over the earth:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Genesis 1)

God created a male and a female in His image and said: “Let them have dominion.” The use of the plural is significant. Dominion over the animals and the earth extended to both the man and the woman. In other words, both Adam and Eve were given the responsibility to care for and administer the affairs of the earth. They would work together as man and woman to care for the earth that God had given them.

Notice finally from Genesis 1:28 that one of the roles God gave to man and the woman was to multiply and fill the earth.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1)

This first man and woman were to have children together and fill the earth with human beings. Understand that God could have made human beings in such a way that they did not need each other to have children, but He didn’t. He created man and woman so that they were dependant on each other to fully obey the mandate of God. The man would not be able to bear a child. The woman, however, was created in such a way that she could carry a child and deliver it into this world. Her milk would feed and nourish that child until he or she was old enough to eat solid food. The male and the female would have distinct roles to play in this God-given mandate to multiply and fill the earth.

The difference between man and woman is seen not only in their biological difference but in how they were created. According to Genesis 2:7, man was created from the dust of the ground:

7 then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. (Genesis 2)

The creation of woman, however, was quite different. She was created from Adam:

21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22 And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23 Then the man said,

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

From Genesis 2:19 we understand that the Lord God created man, the animals and the birds from the ground:

19 Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. (Genesis 2)

Woman, however, was not created from the ground but from man. Consider what is taking place in this context. Adam has been discovering all kinds of animals and birds in the garden. God, in fact, has asked Adam to give them names. These creatures were all created from the dust of the ground. If God had created woman from the dust of the ground and brought her to man, he would have seen her as any other creature. When God took her from Adam’s side however, He was distinguishing woman from every other creature that Adam named. She was not like them. She was like Adam because she had come from him.

We are not told how Adam knew that she was formed from his rib, but it is quite clear that when he awoke he knew she had come from him and was like him and not like the animals around him. This act distinguished woman from the other creation. She was created for man as a partner to him.

There is another important detail we need to see from the account of the creation of man and woman. Adam was the first to be created. While the birth order of our children does not mean as much to us today, in the Old Testament Jewish context, this order of birth was very important.

Listen to the Law of Moses in Numbers 18:

15 Everything that opens the womb of all flesh, whether man or beast, which they offer to the Lord, shall be yours. Nevertheless, the firstborn of man you shall redeem, and the firstborn of unclean animals you shall redeem. (Numbers 18)

Every firstborn that opened the womb belonged to the Lord and was given to the priest for His service. If the firstborn was an unclean animal the owner would pay a price to buy it back from the priest and keep it himself. If the firstborn was a male child, the parents would purchase him back from the Lord at a set rate and that child would live with them. While everything belongs to the Lord, the Lord claimed the firstborn of all families for Himself.

The other important detail we need to understand about the firstborn is that he would inherit a double portion of his father’s estate. Consider the law of Moses as recorded in Deuteronomy 21:

15 “If a man has two wives, the one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him children, and if the firstborn son belongs to the unloved, 16 then on the day when he assigns his possessions as an inheritance to his sons, he may not treat the son of the loved as the firstborn in preference to the son of the unloved, who is the firstborn, 17 but he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the firstfruits of his strength. The right of the firstborn is his. (Deuteronomy 21)

This double portion was not to be taken away from the firstborn. He was to be honoured because he was the firstborn and given this double portion of his father’s estate.

We see from this that the firstborn, according to Old Testament Jewish culture occupied a very special place. As firstborn he would have a special inheritance and obligation before the father. This cultural understanding had an impact on the teaching of the apostles about the role of woman in ministry. Paul refers to this in 1Timothy 2:12,13 where he tells Timothy that the woman should learn quietly, for the man was created first. We will consider this passage later. For now, simply notice that this cultural understanding of the firstborn and his privileges is used by the apostles later to teach about the role of women in the ministry of the church.

As we move on now to Genesis 2:18 we read:

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2)

God created Eve to be a helper for Adam the firstborn. As the firstborn, Adam had a great responsibility to care for the earth the Lord had given. He could not do this alone. He needed the assistance of the woman to help him to fulfil his mandate as firstborn of creation. As a helper, the woman was not inferior. Though her role was to be a helper, she was equal to Adam in dignity before God for she too had been created in the image of God. Together as firstborn and helper they would have dominion over creation.

What we see in Genesis is that even before sin entered the world there are differences in roles and titles. Man and woman were both created in the image of God, but they were not created at the same time or in the same way. Adam was created first then Eve. Adam was created from the dust of the earth. Eve was created from Adam’s bone. Adam is created as the firstborn. Eve was created as a helper. This was God’s intention in a perfect world.

The world in which Adam and Eve lived did not remain perfect. This first couple would fall into sin. Genesis 3 recounts the story of how Satan deceived the woman and caused her to eat from a tree that God had forbidden. She not only ate the forbidden fruit herself but gave some of its fruit to her husband to eat as well. Listen to what God said to Adam after he ate the forbidden fruit:

17 And to Adam he said,
“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife
and have eaten of the tree
of which I commanded you,
‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life (Genesis 3)

The Lord God cursed the ground, Adam was to cultivate because he listened to the voice of his wife. There are two points I want to make here.

First, we observe that God had an expectation of Adam as the first created and spiritual head of this small family unit. He had a spiritual obligation to care for and protect his family. Being a leader is a lonely position. It means making decisions that are sometimes unpopular. While good leaders hear the suggestions of those under them, they must make the final decision based on what they feel is in the best interests of their company, church or family. This will often go against the ideas suggested by others.

Second, Adam listened to the voice of his wife and ate the fruit, despite the command of God. The accusation of God in Genesis 3:17 shows us that God expected that Adam would act as the head of the family unit in the best spiritual interest of that family. He failed in his obligation as leader and spiritual head. He chose instead to surrender this decision joined his wife in sin.

Genesis 3:17 is not only important for what it shows us about the headship of Adam, but it is also used by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:14-15 to show the reason why a woman should not have authority over a man in the church. We will examine this later but for now the point is that this creation story is seen by the New Testament writers to be the basis for their understanding of the role of women in the ministry of the church.

We have seen God’s rebuke of man in Genesis 3:17. Let’s backup and listen to what God would say to the woman after eating the forbidden fruit.

16 To the woman he said,
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children.
Your desire shall be contrary to your husband,
but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3)

Because of her disobedience, the woman would give birth to her children in great pain. Take note of the phrase: “Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” Consider what is taking place in this verse. God created woman to be a helper. With the entrance of sin, her help is now changed to “contrary desire.” God created man as the firstborn head. With the entrance of sin, that headship is changed to “ruling over.” The entrance of sin did not change God’s roles for man and women, it did, however, change how they exercised those roles. He would exercise his headship as a sinful leader. She would stand beside him as a sinful helper. She would suffer the consequences of man’s twisted understanding of his God-given role as the first born. He would experience the consequences of selfishness, pride and rebellion brought on by sin in the life of his helper.

For Consideration:

What Scriptural evidence do we have in the book of Genesis that both man and women were created in the image of God. What is the implication of both being created in God’s image?

Genesis tells us that God gave dominion to both the man and the woman over the animals and the earth that He created. What is the implication of this for both the man and the woman?

God created man and woman different with a need for each other to fulfil His mandate. How do our differences as men and women complement each other in this task? Why do we need each other?

What is the significance that woman was not created from the dust of the ground but from man? How did this distinguish her from the animals God presented to man in those early days? What implication does this have for us today concerning chow we treat women?

Why is it significant that Adam was created first?

God created Eve as a helper? What was the implication of this in her relationship to Adam?

How did God’s condemnation of Adam after the fall show us His expectation of him as a spiritual head?

How did sin impact the roles God gave to man and women in the Garden?

For Prayer:

Take a moment to thank the Lord that He created us male and female in His image. Ask Him to enable you to see that image and how both men and women reflect this image in different ways.

Ask God to help us as men and women to fulfil His creation mandate to care for this earth as managers of His resources. Ask Him how you can be more faithful in this.

Take a moment to thank the Lord that He created us male and female. Ask Him to help us to find a way to work harmoniously together according to His purpose.

Ask God to help us to fulfil our creation mandate despite the sin that affects us every day. Ask Him to forgive you for times you have not been faithful to His creation purpose for you as a man or woman.


We learned from the account of creation in Genesis that the Lord created man and women in His image to have dominion over the earth. While both man and women were created in the image of God, they were created differently and with distinct roles. Let’s take a moment in this chapter to examine how these differences worked themselves out in the worship of the Old Testament.

Women and Men Worshipping Together

In Exodus 14 after Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt, Pharaoh sent his army after them in the wilderness. God opened the waters of the Red Sea for His children to cross. When the Egyptians followed, the Lord caused its watery walls to collapse on them.

Safely on the other side, Moses led his people in a song of thanksgiving and praise:

1 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying,
“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.
2 The Lord is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation;
this is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
3 The Lord is a man of war;
the Lord is his name. (Exodus 15)

After Moses led the people in this song of thanksgiving, Miriam took a tambourine in her hand and led the women in a celebration dance.

20 Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:

Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously;
the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea.” (Exodus 15)

This dance was part of the worship offered to God after He delivered Israel from the Egyptian army. Miriam and the woman played a significant role in this celebration.

We see a similar incident in 1 Samuel 18:6,7. David had just come home from defeating the Philistines. As he entered the city of Jerusalem, the women came out to great him. They sang and danced to celebrate the goodness of God in giving them deliverance from their enemies.

6 As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments. 7 And the women sang to one another as they celebrated,

Saul has struck down his thousands,
and David his ten thousands.” (1 Samuel 18)

We learn from 2 Chronicles 35.25 that both men and women sang sons of laments in the worship of the Lord God.

25 Jeremiah also uttered a lament for Josiah; and all the singing men and singing women have spoken of Josiah in their laments to this day… (2 Chronicles 35)

Among the group who returned to Jerusalem in the days of Ezra were 200 men and women singers (see Ezra 2:65). We also see in Judges 5:1 how, after defeating King Jabin, Deborah the prophetess and Barak the military commander sang a song of thanksgiving to the Lord.

The women of the Old Testament were free to worship alongside men. They sang and danced in celebration of God and His great victories.

Men and Women Joining Together Under the Preaching and Reading of the Word

Not only did women join men in the praise and worship of God in the Old Testament, they also joined them in listening to the reading and proclamation of the Word of God. In Deuteronomy 31.12-13 Moses commanded the assembly of men, women and little ones to hear the reading of the Law of God:

12 Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, 13 and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess. (Deuteronomy 31)

It was the purpose of God that men, women and children learn through the reading of the Word, how to follow Him and His purpose.

After Israel’s defeat at Ai in Joshua 8, Joshua assembled the people to renew their covenant with the Lord their God. He read to them the words of the law. Men and women were gathered together to hear the words of this law:

34 And afterward he read all the words of the law, the blessing and the curse, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. 35 There was not a word of all that Moses commanded that Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, and the women, and the little ones, and the sojourners who lived among them. (Joshua 8)

Ezra the priest, as well, had men and women assembled before him to listen to the words of the Book of the Law:

1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel. 2 So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. 3 And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8)

Nehemiah 8 goes on to tell us that as the words of the law were being read, the Levites instructed the people in the meaning of these words. The context clearly indicates that men and women were in the assembly that day. Women assembled with men under the reading and preaching of the Word of God.

Women and Men Publicly Confessing Sin

There are at least two occasions in the Old Testament where women and men are involved in public confession and weeping for sin. In the passage we have just quoted from Nehemiah 8, we understand that both men and women gathered to hear the Word of the Lord. Notice the response of “all the people” to the preaching and teaching of God’s Word on that day:

9 And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. (Nehemiah 8)

“All the people” wept as they heard the words of the Law. These individuals, men and women, were touched by the truth of the word. Together men and women grieved for their sin against God.

Ezra 10.1 makes this even clearer:

1 While Ezra prayed and made confession, weeping and casting himself down before the house of God, a very great assembly of men, women, and children, gathered to him out of Israel, for the people wept bitterly. (Ezra 10)

Both men and women were being touched by the Spirit of God. Together they confessed their sin and grieved before God.

Women and Men Bringing Offerings to the Lord

Women, like men were encouraged to bring their offerings to the Lord.

20 Then all the congregation of the people of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. 21 And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution to be used for the tent of meeting, and for all its service, and for the holy garments. 22 So they came, both men and women. All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord (Exodus 35)

29 All the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work that the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord. (Exodus 35)

The Lord made no distinction between the offering brought by a man and the offering brought by a woman. All whose hearts moved them were free to bring their offerings to the Lord.

Men and Women Making Vows to the Lord

In Numbers 6.1-4 we read that both men and women were able to make special vows of separation to the Lord as a Nazirite.

2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When either a man or a woman makes a special vow, the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, 3 he shall separate himself from wine and strong drink. He shall drink no vinegar made from wine or strong drink and shall not drink any juice of grapes or eat grapes, fresh or dried. 4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, not even the seeds or the skins. (Numbers 6)

The Nazirite vow was a special vow of separation to the Lord for a period of time and for a particular purpose. It is quite clear from Numbers 6:2 that this was a vow of separation that either a man or a woman could take. There was no distinction made for this vow.

While women could make vows to the Lord, we read in Numbers 30 that there were some restrictions for women in the making of vows. The Law of Moses stated that the vow of a woman who still lived at home with her parents could be annulled by her father if he disapproved:

3 “If a woman vows a vow to the Lord and binds herself by a pledge, while within her father’s house in her youth, 4 and her father hears of her vow and of her pledge by which she has bound herself and says nothing to her, then all her vows shall stand, and every pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. 5 But if her father opposes her on the day that he hears of it, no vow of hers, no pledge by which she has bound herself shall stand. And the Lord will forgive her, because her father opposed her. (Numbers 30)

The same principle applied to a woman who had a husband. If the husband, as the head of the household, disapproved of the vow his wife made, he could annul the vow:

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